In the old West, there were water wars. Now America’s water wars are fought in courtrooms and legislatures.

After a big buildup that heightened expectations upriver, the conclusion of the 2013 Oregon Legislature’s water debate was something of a letdown. But perhaps if we examine the legislative product in the context of the future, there is more reason to be buoyant.

Water legislation that emerged in the final week of the Oregon Legislature fits the definition of politics as “the art of the possible,” as described by Otto von Bismarck in 1867. A legislative insider tells us that neither extreme of the political spectrum likes Salem’s outcome. That probably indicates this was sound policy.

House Bill 839 funds water storage and planning projects around the Columbia River Basin. Separate legislation (Senate Bill 5533) deposits $10 million for implementation of the House bill. The money comes from lottery funds.

A prospective project that has most excited this editorial page and those of our Eastern Oregon sister newspapers was formulated by the Oregon Solutions Committee on Columbia Basin Irrigation. Commissioned by Gov. John Kitzhaber, the committee proposed to withdraw water from the Columbia in winter and pump it into an aquifer. That would boost agricultural output, said advocates, as well as fish habitat. A broad coalition including environmentalists, farmers and the Umatilla Indian Tribe were part of the Solutions Group.

Now, it seems we have a mechanism in which Eastern Oregon interests may apply for financial assistance to move their concept forward.

If we look to Klamath County, we may see what happens when water negotiations are not implemented by lawmakers. After years of multiparty talks in the Klamath Basin, Congress failed to act, once the tea party inserted itself and made the Klamath agreement radioactive to Republicans such as Oregon Congressman Greg Walden.

Mother Nature in the form of climate change is not fooled by any of this. The Oregon Legislature can alibi its way out of procrastination on the Public Employees Retirement System. But not on water.

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